What We Gain When Gathering: Key Takeaways From Atmos x Twenty Summers

What We Gain When Gathering: Key Takeaways From Atmos x Twenty Summers | Atmos


words by jasmine hardy

photographs by yael malka

One week ago, thought leaders came together for a three-day conversation on environmental activism, queer ecology, ocean conservation, Indigenous sovereignty, and more, fostering a cross-pollination of ideas from the climate movement’s most crucial pillars.

Atop the sand dunes of Indigenous Wampanoag land in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a collection of like minds with an appetite for change gathered inside a wooden barn. From the outside there seemed to be a sense of stillness; the only movement was the gentle rustling of tree leaves. But inside were the deep rumblings of what felt like a revolution. Everyone was here for a reason, a shared sense of purpose among us; all gathered in pursuit of saving something larger than ourselves.


This three-day communion—filled with vitalizing panel and keynote conversations, a musical performance, and a healing sound bath—was born from a collaboration between Atmos and the nonprofit arts organization Twenty Summers. The historic Hawthorne barn was chosen as the event location for its long history of housing writers, artists, and innovators dating back to the early 1900s. A century on, the barn was filled again with a spirit of creativity and benevolence. 


To open the weekend, Atmos editor-in-chief Willow Defebaugh shared her thoughts on the primary issue underlying the climate crisis, which this event aimed to resolve: isolation. 


Throughout the weekend, that separation we so often feel—between one another, the Earth, and all of its inhabitants—noticeably lessened. Each of the five panels (Queering Nature, Going Back to the Land, Embodied Activism, Oceans Between Us, and Future of Fashion) in addition to keynote speeches from Bayo Akomolafe on science and spirituality, and Bonnie Wright on storytelling, offered an abundance of wisdom that the world could benefit from. 


In an effort to spread some of those ideas beyond the walls of that wooden barn, here are some takeaways from each discussion, hopefully sparking a similar spirit of revolution so deeply felt when we decide to come together, calling in unison for a better world. 

Willow Defebaugh

Sabrina Imbler

Patricia Ononiwu Kaishian

Pınar Sinopoulos-Lloyd

The first panel discussion on queering nature kicked off late afternoon on Friday, May 24. Sunlight spilled into the 15-foot window and onto the stage as the speakers engaged in an expansive conversation about viewing the world through the lens of queerness. Atmos editor-in-chief Willow Defebaugh, Indigenous wildlife tracker and researcher Pınar Sinopoulos-Lloyd, science writer Sabrina Imbler, and mycologist Patricia Ononiwu Kaishian shared stories of their own shifts in identities, pointed to organisms that exist outside the binary, emphasized the role of nature as a queer space, and discussed the animism of the world. While there was an overflow of ideas to pull from the conversation, here are a few that stood out.


1. Diversity in nature is a function of ecological systems. Our world is filled with examples of organisms and systems that do not fit our heteronormative and binary notions of identity, a reminder of the many forms we can occupy as humans.

2. The ‘Other’ is sacred. The distance we create between ourselves and what we deem to be separate from us allows for violation to occur. What can we gain from mending that disconnect, filling it with emotion and empathy, and learning to be in relationship with all that is considered ‘Other’?

3. Queerness, like nature, is untameable and constantly growing, teaching us new and different ways of relating to each other and our nonhuman kin.


The following morning on Saturday, May 25, opened with a conversation among Indigenous leaders Jade Begay, Ruth H. Burns, Melissa K. Nelson, Jennifer Randolph, and Quannah Chasinghorse about landback and Indigenous sovereignty. As a member of the Wampanoag nation, the people of the first light, Randolph began with a land acknowledgement, grounding us in the space of her ancestors. Then followed a discussion on restoring and reconnecting to the land through the landback movement, the benefit of leading the movement with love, and the vital role of Indigenous people as protectors of not only tribal land, but all land. What stood out most was their deep respect for one another’s native cultures and the similarities that could be found among them—along with the following takeaways.


1. The concept of landback is a form of truth telling. It’s not just a matter of giving the land back to its original stewards, but also an acknowledgment of their sovereignty, paying respect to their long history of protecting the Earth.

2. Our words hold power. Simply learning the names of the people and the nation that is Indigenous to the land you stand on can go a long way.

3. Taking action beyond land acknowledgement starts in your own community. Find the Indigenous folks where you live, build relationships, and most importantly come equipped with your own set of skills that can contribute to the movement. As Melissa K. Nelson put it, show up with a full basket.


Mikaela Loach

Sierra Quitiquit

Wanjiku “Wawa” Gatheru

Cate Mingoya-LaFortune

Later that day, we were joined by a group of environmental and social justice advocates including climate activist and author Mikaela Loach, Black Girl Environmentalist founder Wawa Gatheru, climate adaptation expert Cate Mingoya-LaFortune, and climate activist and professional skier Sierra Quitiquit. These four took the audience on their journeys as activists, including the personal experiences that radicalized them to commit to this work. Several offerings were shared on how we could integrate activism into our own daily lives, beginning with the following ideas.


1. A large part of embodying activism is relational organizing; connecting in community and sharing a similar vision is where it begins. Not only does organizing encourage us to be accountable to ourselves, but also to those we organize with, leading to a collective push for the transformation of our systems.

2. Studying the histories of past movements is a vital tool in strengthening our current movements for change. There seems to be an intentional “historic amnesia” in our society, allowing space for the same oppressive cycles to continue. By leaning on intergenerational knowledge and information, we are given a clearer path for moving forward.

3. There is value in your own expertise gained from community knowledge. Start by becoming a data keeper in your own neighborhood, documenting the areas most vulnerable to climate change.

As the weekend neared the end on Sunday, reflections and emotions seemed to culminate during the oceans panel, filling the barn with a mix of energies. Moderator and ocean activist Bodhi Patil began the discussion with a grounding exercise, asking the audience to take a few deep breaths, and reminding us that one of those inhales could be attributed to the oxygen-producing phytoplankton along the ocean floor. He then proceeded to invite us all into a metaphorical submersible, leading everyone on a journey through the ocean, spearheaded by its fiercest advocates, including photographer and filmmaker Andy Mann, international ocean policy expert Maximiliano Bello, marine biologist and oceanographer Daniel M. Palacios, and marine researcher Alannah Vellacott. Throughout the voyage, the panelists shared enticing anecdotes from their experiences in the deep sea, harrowing facts about the ocean, and ways we can help save it. Here are some points that stuck.


1. A large part of ocean conservation is about what Vellacott referred to as the “unchoice.” By simply deciding to not make those small choices that we know will hurt the planet, such as buying single use plastic or leaving trash on the beach, we can prevent a lot of harm from occurring in the first place. 

2. With only 3% of the ocean considered to be well-protected, we are a far cry from reaching our goal of protecting 30% of the world’s terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas by the year 2030. Marine Protected Areas are our best opportunity to revitalize the ocean, and perhaps the only way forward. 

3. We have it within us to adapt, and looking at former wins can be great reminders of that fact. There was a point in which whales nearly reached a point of extinction and while protecting this keystone species is an ongoing battle, their return from the brink of disappearance is a sign of our capacity to make tangible change.

Camila Falquez

Cameron Russell

The final panel felt like sitting in on an intimate conversation between old friends or longtime collaborators. Photographer Camila Falquez and model and organizer Cameron Russell joined forces to discuss a range of topics including the colonial language we use to describe image-making, the lineage of labor rights organizing in the fashion space, and how fashion photography can be a container for grief, pleasure, and joy among other things. Here are some highlights from the conversation.


1. Fashion and photography serve as a reminder of the power of playfulness that can be injected into the climate movement. Artistic choices don’t always need to be explained—rather, the role of the photographer and the artist is to reclaim imagination and then pass it along to others. And imagination is what we need to create new futures.

2. The idea of taking photos can be a colonial practice, set up for the benefit of one participant. But by making an agreement and removing the pedestal, photography can become a collaborative practice that creates cracks in the structures it operates within. 


3. Fashion and industry are separate ideas. So many of our civil liberties have been shaped by the labor organizing of those working within the extractive and oppressive fashion industry. But the craft of fashion can be used as an exit from that industry and used to honor those who have demanded better.

Bayo Akomolafe

Bonnie Wright

Finally, for the weekend’s keynotes, two very different, yet equally thought provoking conversations were held with Atmos editor-in-chief Willow Defebaugh. 


Her first conversation on Saturday with philosopher and writer Bayo Akomolafe included a range of topics from the fallacy of being a “good” citizen in the Global North to what it looks like to be on the precipice of a new kind of faith. Akomolafe’s words switched between mind-stirring philosophical queries one second to playful call-and-responses the next. It was the kind of keynote filled with nuggets of knowledge that might surface then resurface days later after the mind has had time to process. But here’s one sentiment that immediately stuck: Finding the third way. The way we respond to the many crises of our time has not been working; therefore we must look at the edges of normalcy, at the “Other,” at the monstrous. In these depths of the unknown and unexplored, we just might find our way out.


As for actress and author Bonnie Wright’s keynote on storytelling on Sunday, it was the perfect conclusion to an inspiring weekend. Ideas, thoughts, and stories shared throughout the last three days had already begun to weave together, forming a tapestry of diverse, interconnected, intergenerational wisdom. Wright referenced these stories in her discussion with Defebaugh, along with finding hope through rewriting narratives, using storytelling as vehicles for empathy and energy exchange, and inspiring people to take action after a story ends. The main conclusion that struck a chord with myself and many others in the room however is this: Never assume someone isn’t trying to change their story. 


As our three days together came to an end and reflections surfaced, one key sentiment lingered among us all: in gathering, we grow. Despite the deep knowledge the panelists brought to the space, each one emphasized that the answers cannot come solely from them. Rather, we’re all tasked with looking in the mirror, uncovering our unique skill sets, and then showing up to the movement with a full basket. As citizens of this Earth, we can all become ocean warriors, land protectors, or activists—an assembly of changemakers, gathered together, moving forward as one.

60 Seconds on Earth,Anthropocene,Art & Culture,Climate Migration,Black Liberation,Changemakers,Democracy,Environmental Justice,Photography,Earth Sounds,Deep Ecology,Indigeneity,Queer Ecology,Ethical Fashion,Ocean Life,Climate Solutions,The Frontline,The Overview,Biodiversity,Common Origins,Fabricating Change,Future of Food,Identity & Community,Movement Building,Science & Nature,Well Being,


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